After I had known the Lord for about five years I did something which, looking back, was a bit of a spiritually dangerous thing to do. It was most certainly an absolutely right and biblical thing to do, and I have no doubt whatsoever that the Lord Himself led me to do it, but it was nonetheless decidedly risky. I asked the Lord to show me the true extent of my sinfulness and what it meant to carry the cross. I asked Him to show me what it meant to die daily to self and be one with Him in His death and resurrection. I am not exaggerating in any way at all when I say that, over the years that followed, I truly didn’t know what hit me.
There is no doubt in my mind that I really did know before then that I was a sinner. Indeed, the night I came to the Lord, totally out of the blue, I knew for the first time in my life that I was sinful and in need of His forgiveness and mercy. It was not a concept I had in any way previously comprehended, but that night I really was a penitent sinner cut down by a deep and abiding conviction of my depravity before God and the need for both forgiveness and cleansing. In other words, I was no fair-weather convert having responded to some perverted evangelistic message to the mere effect that God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life. No! I knew beyond doubt that night that I was quite deservedly headed for a terrible and godless eternity, and that the Lord was commanding me to repent and to surrender to Him in the obedience of saving faith.
But however real that was, and it was extremely real, it doesn’t change the fact that the conviction of sin that I experienced upon my initial conversion, and over the handful of years that followed was, so to speak, just a taster. It was a sample, if you will, and a very small one at that, and it was only after several years of God dealing with me following that prayer that He began to show me something of the full extent of my sinfulness. Only then did I actually begin to appreciate and understand the sheer extent of the deceptiveness and evil of my heart. He demonstrated to me, quite terribly, that the simple truth was that, even though I had been a Christian for some years, I was still largely blind to the sin in me He yet wanted to reveal to me and deliver me from.
There are all manner of ways to describe the great need of the hour for those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Becoming comprehensively biblical! Growing in godliness! Coming into maturity! Living in obedience to Him! Yes, of course! But what it really boils down to is this: far too many believers who have been believers for years appear to be still largely ignorant of what their sins actually are. They live more in accordance with a kind of accepted, but rather wooly, Christian cultural ‘mindset’ then in deliberate comprehensive obedience to what the Bible actually teaches. They have, it would appear, called a ‘truce’ with the world, embracing a morally respectable, yet completely worldly, godlessness, where things like pride, covetousness, selfishness, the love of money and pursuit of material affluence go largely un-judged.
Part of what I do involves me, at times, in having to engage with brothers in the Lord, and sometimes their wives too, who are in process of shipwrecking their faith. Whether it be through immorality, bitterness and resentment, the love of money, or whatever, my desire and aim is to bring them to repentance and restoration, and freedom from the folly that has overtaken them. It is a joy when success becomes apparent, but heartbreak beyond words should they refuse to put lives in order.
But such situations, and here’s my point, make me realise yet again, as it should do us all, the sheer depth and danger of my own sinfulness, and how easily, but for the grace of the Lord, I could go the same way. As believers we must indeed judge each another and hold one another to account, just as scripture commands us to do (1 Corinthians 5), yet none of us dare forget, but for an instant, that we all stand in equal danger of any who are falling by the wayside, and thus forsaking the Lord and shipwrecking their faith. Scripture warns us of the deceptiveness of sin, and it behoves each one of to periodically quite intentionally ask the Lord to show us afresh just how sinful and prone to deception and self-righteousness we actually are.
“Search me O God and try my heart, and see if there be any wicked way in me.” So cried out the Psalmist in an exhortation we dare not ignore. Paul quite undeniably categorised some Christians as being carnal as opposed to being spiritual, and herein lies the difference between the two. Carnal Christians are little aware of their sinfulness and, broadly speaking, consider their lives to be theirs to do with petty much as they please. The probably won’t be sexually immoral or tell too many lies or anything like that, but outside of the ‘blatant’ stuff still perceive life to be lived in whatever way they fancy. Spiritual Christians however, in complete contrast, are not only fully aware of their sin, they also greatly fear it! They therefore surrender all, every day, lest in failing to do so they surrender instead to the sin they so greatly dread.
Further, carnal Christians will probably consider what I have written as being far too dour and negative for them. Spiritual Christians, however (and I use this phrase as does Paul in 1 Corinthians), will read these words not only with a sense of gratitude for the reminder, but also with a sense of the sheer joy that comes from knowing not only that their sins are forgiven, but that because they are also living in daily repentance, they don’t have to keep trying to deny, hide or excuse them any more.
We shall return to this in the next post…